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Liam Lacey: Behind the Screens

The studios wake up to the power of Rotten Tomatoes Add to ...

“On average, this critic grades one point lower than other critics” on Metacritic’s 100-point scale. On the other hand, he agrees with the Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer 77 per cent of the time.

That’s me I’m talking about – apparently a slightly ungenerous but easy-to-get-along-with guy. In contrast, my movie-reviewing colleague, Rick Groen, rates one charitable point higher than other critics on Metacritic, but, loner that he is, agrees with the Tomatometer only 72 per cent of the time.

Agree or not, we’re obviously part of something that’s bigger than both of us.

These two film-review aggregators, Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes, are becoming increasingly influential as studios look to such sites to help create a critical chorus for films, especially for the growing area of online home video.

Rotten Tomatoes is the biggest (12 million unique viewers a month) and oldest (since 1998) aggregate film-review site. It’s also the most fan-based, drawing on more than 450 online and print writers. An example of the Web’s “hive mind” at work, Rotten Tomatoes’ most important contribution to movie culture is the collective review, one that stamps a film as either “fresh” (60 per cent or more positive reviews) or “rotten.” No degrees of soft but edible, tart but slight, or firm-but-green are included.

What Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t do is evaluate how positive those good reviews are. That means that a film with a lot of lukewarm write-ups can easily rate higher than an acknowledged masterpiece. According to the Rotten Tomatoes critics, for example, the frolicsome Beatles movie A Hard Day’s Night is the top-rated classic film of all time, ahead of Citizen Kane.

Metacritic, which started in 2001, is more highbrow, using fewer and better publications. The site’s 100-point scale allows for more refined critical gradations. Like Rotten Tomatoes, it gives more weight to important reviewers. Metacritic also “normalizes” scores, a statistical adjustment that lowers poor scores and raises medium grades so the range of opinion sometimes looks more dramatic than it really is.

The most in-depth of the aggregate sites is a relative newcomer, the two-year-old Movie Review Intelligence, started by former studio marketing executive David Gross (of Fox, Disney, MGM and HBO). Not just a movie-review page, it’s more a fetish page for movie-stats enthusiasts – full of scattergraphs, charts and even average word counts for reviewers. Though the site says I’m only positive 57 per cent of the time, I kind of love it.

Perhaps that’s because the site is evidence that someone thinks reviews still matter. It’s a position that Movie Review Intelligence’s research endorses: 81 per cent of the 71.5 million American filmgoers use reviews to make their choices, with viewers who see at least 12 movies a year reading several reviews a month.

What we’re seeing on the video-on-demand front, though, isn’t more complexity but less, as Rotten Tomatoes’ influence spreads. Since last fall, the new Apple TV device and iTunes link directly to Rotten Tomatoes reviews. Apple is currently responsible for about 65 per cent of all online video sales.

In May of this year, Warner Bros. Home Entertainment acquired Rotten Tomatoes along with its parent company, the movie-buff social-networking site Flixster. Combined, Flixster and Rotten Tomatoes will now have an estimated 30 million visitors each month. Users will have access to a database of 250,000 movies, 2.3 billion user reviews and even half a million critics’ reviews.

Shockingly big numbers, aren’t they? If you’re in a hurry, though, you’re encouraged to reduce it down to one snap judgment: fresh versus rotten.

OPENING NEXT WEEK

The Debt This remake of a 2007 Israeli thriller directed by John Madden ( Shakespeare in Love) follows three Mossad agents in two different time periods. In the first, set in the mid-sixties, they are in pursuit of a Nazi-war-criminal doctor in East Germany and are played by Jessica Chastain, Sam Worthington and Marton Csokas. Thirty years later, when new information is uncovered, the three are played by Helen Mirren, Ciaran Hinds and Tom Wilkinson.

Apollo 18 The Blair Witch Project goes lunar in this budget sci-fi horror flick that purports to be found footage of the last top-secret moon mission. Two American astronauts go back to the moon to discover something like, “Houston, we have an infestation.” Russian-Kazakh director Timur Bekmambetov (director of the James McAvoy-Angelina Jolie hit Wanted) produces.

Follow on Twitter: @liamlacey

 

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